Buckley's response was pinched. "There is, of course, argument on the question of whether homosexuality is in all cases congenital. But let us assume that this is so, and then ask: Is it reasonable to expect the larger community to cease to think of the activity of homosexuals as unnatural, whatever its etiology?" His answer was a haughty no.
Soon after coming out, Liebman joined forces with Log Cabin, which was just setting up a national organization: He was chairman and Rich Tafel was president. Then came a falling-out, with the Log Cabin people convinced that Liebman, who also created a conservative gay think tank called the Lambda Conservative Foundation, was trying to set up a competing organization. Despite the toll taken by such gyrations,which are endemic to new movements, Liebman has achieved, however belatedly and improbably, a genuine eminence. He has shown the way by providing a role model of personal integrity and by moderating the political climate, making it easier for younger gays and lesbians to call themselves committed conservatives.
For a man who was forced to conceal his sexuality in the Communist Party, which considered homosexuals untrustworthy and therefore undesirable, and who fell from grace in mainstream conservative politics when he finally came out, Liebman betrays a startling absence of bitterness or animosity. And for a prominent gay conservative, he reveals anything but a conventional view of the political scene.
"My politics now are independent. The Republican Party lacks compassion, it just does, but it is the second party, and you can't ignore it." He sees no point in being a gay Democrat--"there are already so many of them"--but he voted for Clinton because he felt he couldn't vote for George Bush. Now, like many gays, he feels betrayed. "Clinton said that the day after he was inaugurated he would sign a presidential order saying gays are OK in the military, and that's all he had to do. Even if Congress had overturned it, he would have been a hero, and we need heroes, but now he's a punk."
Living in the District of Columbia, Liebman takes unabashed delight in the on-again, off-again D.C. mayoral campaign of Luke Sissyfag, a young AIDS activist and self-created media creature whose flamboyance makes some buttoned-up gay conservatives squirm. Liebman says there's no such thing as a real gay conservative movement--"the Log Cabin clubs aren't conservative, they're liberal at best"--but he cheers gay movers and shakers in their assault on the GOP.
"Politics is the worst thing in the world," Liebman says. "It's full of thieves, crooks and liars. But you've got to get involved, and Log Cabin is doing a wonderful service by trying to get involved in the Republican Party. Will they succeed? I don't know. I only know they're doing a service to the community, they absolutely are, just like Luke Sissyfag is doing a service to the community."
If Liebman is short on doctrinaire coherence, his views reveal a generosity of spirit that may have been wrong for partisan politics from the start. "I embraced everybody but myself," he reflects ruefully. "When I learned to embrace myself, I became truly all-embracing."
Whether gay conservatives constitute a movement is an intricate question. Sullivan of the New Republic doesn't think they do either, but for different reasons; his outlook is that of a social critic with a deep belief in the importance of gay rights in the military, and the need to accord full legal status to gay marriages. But that outlook also includes an abiding sense of the limits of political and legal action. "The definition of someone who is conservative with a small 'c,' " he says, "is someone who doesn't believe in movements."
Sullivan does see significant changes in the political climate, however. "Fifteen years ago, deeply closeted, completely closeted gay people were running extremely right-wing organizations like NCPAC, the National Conservative Political Action Committee. That just cannot and does not happen anymore. Now we have openly gay people like David Brock, the pit bull of the American Spectator (magazine), their hero who brought down Anita Hill and helped try to bring down Bill Clinton."
More important, Sullivan believes that the gay community as a whole is going through a period of great change. "There's nearly a critical mass of people who've begun to challenge the leftist analysis of sexual issues, or rather emotional issues," he says. "As far as I'm concerned, that's what this is all about--the possibility of people's emotional orientation being fully encouraged and accepted. To restrict the debate to sexual activity is to play into the hands of the political left and right."